This weekend, I went to see the Light Opera Works’ production of Fiddler on the Roof in Evanston. I had particularly been keen on seeing a live production of the musical since my friend Jan Lisa Huttner has been studying and lecturing on the play for years. She has given six lectures on the musical, looking at various aspects from it, such as the identity of the fiddler on the roof, the influence of Marc Chagall, the influence of Solomon Aleichem’s life on the work, and more. Here’s her blog about the lectures and her work: http://secondcitytzivi.com/2014/08/02/how-fiddler-has-become/
I enjoyed the production. Seeing the live musical is a nice reminder that most movies just don’t do musicals and plays justice. Alex Honzen, who played Tevye, has an incredible baritone voice. My favorite parts of the production were when he had his conversations with G-d. He also sang and danced “To Life” and “If I were a Rich Man” so well. He and Golda even gave me goose bumps for “Sunrise, Sunset.” It is not a song that I particularly adore but in this production, I felt the weight of their emotions as they consider the passing of time and the marriage of their daughter.
One great thing about the musical is how it values the women’s voices. In a play that starts off talking about the importance of “Papa” in making choices, three of his daughters and his wife are very vocal. These four women are active players in their lives. Three of them even have their own solos or duets. In particular, Katelin Spencer, who played Hodel, had a powerful voice. You really felt the weight of her choice when she sang “Far from the Home I Love.” It’s a nice change from some musicals where it really just centers on the male character and his choices.
And of course there was a fiddler on the roof who would actually played violin! Huzzah! He appeared throughout the play especially during scenes where old ideas clashed with new ideas. Jan Huttner sees him as the representation of tradition. This play supported that interpretation.
It’s interesting to see the staged production after seeing the movie and reading the short stories. The movie cut a lot of important things out, as Jan Lisa Huttner, pointed out, such as completing changing the role of Yenta, the only independent woman in the village, to a lesser character. Other important differences exist so it was nice to see a different interpretation from the movie that most people are familiar with.
It’s also curious to see how the original scriptwriters adapted the short stories. There are eight of them, though none of them are actually named Fiddler on the Roof. The stories are written over the course of 20 years so one critic commented that it was a novel written in real time. What a wonderful concept. Half of the stories are more light and cheery than the second half, which reflect the darkening political atmosphere of Europe when they were written. You see that darkness reflected in the musical, which I think is essential. The musical may be a wonderful celebration of life but life is sad too.
The staging was quite wonderful. All the scenes were located in the middle of the town. The set would unravel itself to locate the house or the bar, etc. And the dance scenes were magnificent. I was particularly taken by the wedding dance by the men who balanced bottles on their heads. And at one point, they were on their knees kicking and sliding across the floor. Pretty swell.
The only thing that was a bit off for me was that the first song “Tradition” had the men and women come on stage with their arms linked for a line dance. This is strange since there is a huge scene later in the musical about men and women dancing together. That first scene jarred me. Another thing that was a bit odd to me was this dream sequence song/dance. It did involve a two-high ghost with amazing green backlighting. I don’t recall what there was in the movie and I haven’t seen other productions but this was a bit odd. It was hilarious but it seemed out of the tone with the rest of the musical.
If you have a chance to check it out, it’s playing until the 24th. Here is the link to the show: http://www.lightoperaworks.org/Fiddler.html